In the heat of the summer, cool down with some refreshing Friday Questions.
Andrew gets us started.
The first few seasons of The Office were golden television. But the quality declined drastically in the later seasons, mainly because Steve Carell left. The show then became a shadow of its former self.
My question: Do people working on a show realize when the quality is plummeting, or are they unable to see how everything is going off the rails? Why not pull the plug when it's clear the magic is gone?
Well, first of all, it’s a matter of opinion that THE OFFICE faded in quality, although lots of people share your view.
There are several reasons a series sinks into a creative decline. The showrunner leaves or stretches himself too thin. Writers go off to do their own show and the new writers who replace them aren’t as good. (Example: Me replacing Larry Gelbart)
Key cast members leave and their replacements aren’t up to snuff.
After awhile your cast starts getting bored playing the same characters and you can see that in their performance.
And you start to run out of good stories. So you either concoct lesser stories or start recycling past ones. A sameness creeps in.
Or, you try to really shake things up but the audience rejects the new direction.
And finally, it’s not the quality – it’s YOU. After a number of years you just lose your appetite for certain shows. You’re dissatisfied while others are quite satisfied. It’s like how people feel about McDonalds.
To answer your second question -- sometimes the writers know the show has jumped the shark. They're struggling with stories, finding it harder and harder to keep the series fresh. They can see the handwriting on the wall.
And then there are those staffs that think they're comedic geniuses producing brilliant art for the ages (those ages being 12-34). Single-camera shows allow for more of that self-delusion since the writers aren't held accountable. The showrunner and staff can watch the rough cut and howl in uncontrollable laughter while America stares at the screen stone-faced.
I assume (uh oh) that a requirement of being a television/movie writer is a thick skin. (Yes, no?) And I often hear stories about rewrites and other writers replacing the original scribe. So, how do most writers/you handle these situations? How do the people making the rewrite decisions view the issue?
You definitely have to have thick skin. Larry Gelbart (I seem to mention him a lot) once addressed the entire membership of the WGA by saying, “Everyone in this room will rewrite everyone else in this room.”
He was right.
It’s just a reality of the business. In TV the showrunner and often the staff will rewrite everything. In features, hiring other writers to rewrite original writers is common.
Do the studios care or have any sensitivity to the writers involved? No, of course not. New writers are paid. That’s that.
What’s tough is when you read someone else’s rewrite and feel your draft was way better. It doesn’t lessen the sting, but it happens to all of us.
You just have to shake it off and move on to the next project. And maybe in the future YOU’LL get a chance to ruin someone’s work.
Ken, did you ever think of a joke for a character that was so good, so funny, that you wrote an entire scene just to make sure that one joke got in? Or did a single joke ever inspire an entire episode?
We did once. It worked out great but was very risky. It’s the episode of CHEERS called “Breaking In Is Hard to Do.” We built the whole show around one payoff gag – that Frasier’s baby’s first word would be Norm. We lucked out. It got a thunderous laugh. But it could have gone the other way. And then we’d have an entire show leading up to a gigantic thud.
I’m glad we did it. I have no desire to do it again.
And finally, from Sherry Niles:
I notice the fireplace in Frasier's apartment is often blazing, and in some episodes there are lots of real candles burning. Were there any regulations about having real fire on an indoor set?
Whenever there is a planned fire on a set a Fire Marshall or Fire crew is present. And there are great precautions taken to ensure the fire will be safe. I mentioned this last Friday – Hollywood studios live in mortal fear of fires. If sets or sound stages are destroyed production comes to a screeching and exorbitant halt.
What's your Friday Question? I answer as many as I can. Thanks.